The Book Of E: All About Ecstasy | Busts, Raids And Clampdowns | 2000
FROM CHAPTER 10
BUSTS, RAIDS AND CLAMPDOWNS
The fireworks were really going off on the evening of Saturday 5 November 1988. There were no Guy Fawkes celebrations at the Essex home of Ted and Margaret Mayes, though. They'd built a bonfire, but it was to burn the smiley T-shirts and florescent jumpers that had belonged to their 21-year-old daughter Janet, who had died on 28 October as a result of taking ecstasy during an acid house party at the Jolly Boatman pub in Hampton Court, Surrey.
The death of Janet Mayes was the second in Britain linked to ecstasy. The first was that of Ian Larcombe, also 21 years old, who'd suffered a fatal heart attack after reportedly popping 18 pills in one go four months earlier. Janet's intake was small by comparison – she had taken just two tablets. Nevertheless, the coroner's report later revealed a massive overdose, the concentration of MDMA in her body registering higher than that found in Ian Larcombe's.
Less than an hour before Janet Mayes collapsed on the dancefloor of the Jolly Boatman, the pub had been surrounded by almost 100 police officers awaiting orders to raid the party. The police had busted several acid parties in and around London during the previous few weeks, including one in Stepney on 5 September and another on the Isle of Dogs on 30 September. But the operation prepared against the Jolly Boatman was set to be on a far grander scale than any of these.
The news that someone inside had collapsed after taking ecstasy provoked a hasty rethink of police tactics. The all-out assault which had been planned was now deemed wholly inappropriate. Instead, a handful of officers were sent into the venue to launch an investigation which disclosed that Janet had bought the drugs from a friend, David Butler, who was initially charged with unlawful killing. This was later dropped when he admitted a charge of supplying.
Across the UK on the weekend of 5 November, as the rockets rocketed and the bangers banged, thousands of party people freaky danced the small hours away. As the events at semi-rural Hampton Court the previous week proved, acid house and the drug that fuelled it was rolling out from the city centres where the scene had held sway throughout that summer. Some of the parties took place in licensed venues, but an increasing number were in disused warehouses and factory units, the events advertised via garish flyers and by word-of-mouth.
The smiley people weren't the only ones frantically tuning into the party grapevine in the days running up to Guy Fawkes Night. So were the police, galvanised into taking tougher action by the media reaction to the death of Janet Mayes, which included a front page story in The Sun headlined 'Shoot These Evil Acid Barons'. The result was a string of busts and almost 60 arrests over the course of that weekend, with acid nights targeted all over the UK – from London and the Home Counties to Manchester and the West Country.
One of the most dramatic of these raids was Operation Seagull, which centred on a party on a Thames pleasure cruiser, the Viscountess, moored at Greenwich Pier in London. The boat was the sister ship of the Marchioness, which sank in the summer of 1989 with the loss of 51 lives. The waterborne party was infiltrated by several undercover detectives and, in the darkness, the Viscountess was surrounded by police launches armed with floodlights. Police frogmen circled in the waters, ready to react if anybody fell in. As the floodlights zapped on, officers from both the launches and the shore swarmed aboard the cruiser, arresting 18 people, including two of the promoters of the party, Robert Darby and Leslie Thomas. They were subsequently sent to prison for 10 and six years respectively, for managing premises at which drugs were supplied. The commanding officer of Operation Seagull, Detective Chief Inspector Albert Patrick, was clearly delighted with his night's work. 'The whole of the pier lit up as soon as I gave the order to attack,' he told journalists. 'It was just like Blackpool illuminations.'
Another of the weekend's raids was on a party at a large derelict house in Sevenoaks, Kent, the walls of which were daubed with smileys, but this one didn't go anywhere near as smoothly as Operation Seagull. As police officers entered the house, a section of the 250-strong crowd turned hostile, resulting in a pitched battle. The disturbance spilled out onto the street and took over 60 officers two hours to bring under control. A number of policemen and party-goers were injured in the affray, one officer receiving a serious head wound after being clubbed from behind. A total of 13 people were taken into custody, most of them on public disorder charges rather than for drug-related offences.
The Kent police force received assistance on the Sevenoaks raid from a Metropolitan Police back-up unit, a fact that NME journalist Steven Wells wasn't slow to pick up on, voicing the popular belief among the acid house fraternity that the raids amounted to a well organised clampdown. But the reverse was actually true. While Operation Seagull was part of a wider investigation called Operation Echo, which was being handled from Plaistow police station in east London and was connected to the September raids in Stepney and the Isle of Dogs, the rest of the authorities' action was uncoordinated beyond a little ground level help. Despite working alongside a Metropolitan unit on the Sevenoaks raid, senior Kent officers knew nothing about Operation Seagull until they read about it in the newspapers. They didn't know anything about Operation Echo until months later.
The haphazard police response continued as winter turned to spring and spring turned to summer. By this point, undercover detectives were regular visitors to acid nights up and down the country. 'They're easily recognised,' one anonymous Brighton club promoter told the NME. 'They're the ones getting into the police vans at the end of the night.'
As well as keeping a tab on what was happening in the clubs, the authorities also started trying to hit at ecstasy supplies. In December 1988, after weeks of surveillance, a swoop on a car in north London netted 500 ecstasy pills and five men. The following month, several thousand pills were found during a raid on a house in Birmingham.
Yet these and similar seizures did next to nothing to stem the increasingly widespread use of ecstasy and the drug claimed its third British victim when 16-year-old Claire Leighton from Cannock, Staffordshire, collapsed at the Hacienda in Manchester on 14 July 1989. Claire had been given a tablet by her friend, Tim Charlesworth. He was later jailed for six weeks, despite Conservative MP Ivor Stanbrook calling for life imprisonment for anyone supplying E.
The Chief Constable of Staffordshire, Charles Kelly, was another who demanded tough action. He got it too – and fast. No sooner had news of Claire Leighton's death dropped onto the doormats of Middle England than a series of raids on private houses across Staffordshire uncovered a number of large consignments of ecstasy and led to 69 arrests. At around the same time, but in a separate incident, police raided a house in Wembley, London, where they found what they believed to be Britain's first E factory.
The death of Claire Leighton was not the first time ecstasy hit the headlines in the summer of 1989. Three weeks earlier, on 26 June, The Sun had published a front page report on an acid party called A Midsummer's Night Dream held by seasoned promoters Sunrise in aircraft hanger at White Waltham, Berkshire. The main face behind Sunrise was Tony Colston-Hayter, a former professional gambler who had earlier been dubbed "the acid house king" by the Daily Mirror. The story in The Sun, which ran under the headline 'Spaced Out!', claimed the event was attended by 11,000 'drug-crazed kids – some as young as 12' and that, when the party was over, reporters saw 'thousands of empty ecstasy wrappers littering the floor'. Beneath the newspaper's famous red logo were the words, 'Thought: Curse of our kids'.
The Sun's account of the White Waltham rave was challenged not only by the organisers, but also by the police. They believed it was way over the top. The youth press were similarly unimpressed. 'Tabloid reporters are known for keeping their brains in glasses of Steradent beside the bed overnight but this alone cannot explain the almost Python-esque inaccuracies in their copy,' wrote the NME's Barbara Ellen in a piece credited to 'Barbara E'. Yet almost every daily newspaper in the country repeated the story over the next couple of days. Television got in on the act too, with the BBC News giving what amounted to a running commentary on the parties taking place the following Saturday. '"Flavour of the week" is the expression, isn't it?' remarked Chief Inspector Laurie Fray of the Thames Valley Police. 'Last week it was Rottweilers.'
There were countless large-scale gatherings like the White Waltham Sunrise rave during the second half of 1989, most of them pitched up within easy striking distance of the then newly opened M25 orbital around London. Tony Colston-Hayter and the Sunrise crew had many rivals – Jarvis Sandy, who ran Biology, Jeremy Taylor, who ran Energy, and a chorus of other outfits like World Dance, Genesis, Raindance and Phantasy. There were raves not just indoors, but in fields, chalk pits and forest clearings. There were euphoric sounds – Ce Ce Rogers' 'Someday', Kariya's 'Let Me Love You For Tonight', Lil Louis' 'French Kiss' – and eurhythmic lightshows. There were thick gushes of dry ice, firework displays, fairground rides and the odd bouncy castle.
There were drugs too. There was speed, acid, coke, cannabis and amyl. And there was always ecstasy. Of course. But never sold in 'wrappers' as The Sun claimed.
For the police, the rash of orbital raves meant one giant-sized headache after another. Especially for Chief Superintendent Ken Tappenden, the divisional commander of north-west Kent, an area split in two by the M25. The southern side of the Dartford Crossing, the only way yo get over the Thames east of London, fell within his jurisdiction. So did Sevenoaks, the scene of the riot that followed the raid on the smiley-daubed house in the early hours of 5 November 1988.
In the wake of the Sevenoaks bust, Tappenden set up an incident room at Dartford police station to investigate the acid party phenomenon – and it wasn't long before he was being flooded with calls from other stations. Not just from stations in Kent, but all over the UK. By the end of the summer of 1989, Tappenden's team had outgrown the Dartford office and transferred to Gravesend, acquiring an official name along the way – the Pay Party Unit, which ravers called 'the Acid House Squad'. From his original team of six, the Pay Party Unit became a national squad, boasting a staff of around 250 officers, 200 of them on the ground, and incorporating satellite detachments in 12 police forces across southern England and East Anglia.
Ken Tappenden was already an officer of considerable experience. He'd joined the Kent Constabulary in 1961 and worked as the senior investigator in over 30 murder cases. He'd had the unenviable task of taking charge of the bodies of British citizens recovered from the Zeebrugge ferry disaster in Belgium. He'd headed up Kent's fraud squad and drug squad, his stint with drug squad including leading a £21 million LSD bust.
Tappenden says he first came across ecstasy long before anyone had ever heard of acid house, but he was initially wary of making too strong a link between E and the huge raves suddenly rocking the countryside. Like a lot of top policemen, Chief Inspector Laurie Fray for one, Tappenden didn't believe the parties were propelled by drugs. They couldn't be. Not parties of this magnitude. Two raves in Kent in the space of two weeks during August 1989, one at Meopham and one at nearby Wrotham, changed his mind. After the Wrotham party, his men collected enough pills to fill six black dustbin bags.
'I really didn't know what was happening at first,' admits Tappenden, who retired from the police force in 1993 with an MBE. 'I didn't know for certain what the motivation was and I didn't know how to contain it, how to combat it. But after Meopham, our surveillance teams started filming the parties and we then knew we had a dreadful problem. We saw dealers bringing in drugs on barrows and security firms taking pills off people to recycle them, to sell them on again. We saw people collapsing and security men throwing them over the fence, so they were outside the perimeter of the party. There was no care for them. Then there was the aftermath. From lunchtime onwards on Sundays, youngsters would be taken to police stations or to village doctors by local residents who'd found them wandering around the countryside in a senseless state.'
Ken Tappenden was astonished at what was going on. 'The ravers were, by and large, nice people, but you could have lined them up against the wall and every one of them would have had a pill in their pocket,' he says. But against his personal horror, he had to balance the logistical reality of the manpower at his disposal. A couple of hundred coppers into even just one party 10,000 ravers simply didn't go. There was no way he could consider a direct hit on the large number of people taking E – a pragmatic abrogation of duty mistakenly perceived by many as police acceptance of individual use. Applying the same mathematics, to which he added his experience at Sevenoaks and an ill-fated attempt to bust the Meopham rave, he also recognised that breaking up a party once it was in full swing risked sparking a riot.
Instead, Tappenden developed a policy of trying to stop the orbital raves happening in the first place. To this end, he did everything in his power – and sometimes a tad beyond. The Pay Party Unit monitored the pirate radio airwaves and the underground press, and undercover officers were sent into clubs and record shops to collect flyers. If Tappenden discovered somebody had agreed to hire out their land or property to a party organiser, he'd seek an injunction against them – although some of the smarter promoters got wise to that and arranged convenient holidays for landowners so they could not be served with the paperwork as required by law. From Wednesdays onwards, police helicopters would be on the lookout for fairground rides and steamrollers on the move, the rollers often being used to flatten sites.
If a party got underway, roadblocks would be set up at strategic points. In the event of mass arrests, Tappenden had magistrates and solicitors on stand-by throughout every Friday and Saturday night, and made sure he knew precisely how many cell spaces were available at nearby police stations. Some of his other tactics were less coventional. He even set up pirate radio broadcasts from the Pay Party Unit's Gravesend office, with younger officers giving out false information on the airwaves.
'We'd pick up on whoever was pushing something that night, Sunrise for example, and we'd go out on the radio as Sunrise as well. We'd go out saying, "The party's been moved to Ipswich". We'd send them off in the opposite direction they were supposed to be going. The shit really hit the fan one Sunday morning after we'd sent them off towards Colchester. One bunch got so frustrated that they smashed up and looted two service stations on the way. Another time, a ravers' convoy of 160 cars totally blocked the M25 for something like eight hours. Everybody stopped their cars and threw their keys into the undergrowth beside the road. It was pitch black and we were snookered.
'We took liberties,' continues Tappenden. 'We overstepped the mark in relation to the law. I visited lots of firms who hired out heavy plant machinery and told them I'd do them for conspiracy if they hired to party organisers. I couldn't do that, it was beyond my power, but that's what I told them. I scanned the Public Order Act and pulled out stuff most lawyers had never even heard of. I claimed I could stop anybody I thought was going to cause a breach of the peace and the organisers' lawyers replied by saying I was making unlawful arrests. I'd already had that with the miners' strike. I'd stopped Kent miners going to picket in Nottinghamshire by blocking the Dartford Tunnel for several hours. I was hauled before the High Court for that.'
The Pay Party Unit's biggest single success came in October 1989, when it stopped a Biology rave near Guildford, Surrey, at which a crowd of 40,000 was anticipated. Tappenden worked furiously to make sure the party didn't happen, coordinating an operation which involved not only several different police forces, but also the Tax Inspectorate, the VAT Inspectorate and UK Immigration. Biology boss Jarvis Sandy was put under surveillance for a week and, through one of his lieutenants, informed that he was looking at 10 years behind bars on a variety of criminal and tax charges if he tried to pull the party off. To ram the message home, Centreforce, one of the most important pirate radio stations, was closed down the night before the planned rave and Sandy's star attractions, American rap heroes Public Enemy, were held for four hours when they arrived at Heathrow Airport.
But despite going to such incredible lengths to cripple the party promoters, Tappenden had a grudging admiration for some of them. 'You've run some bloody good gigs,' he told Engery's Jeremy Taylor at a debate on raves hosted by Melody Maker in early 1990.
'All those guys had was a bank of mobile phones, yet they could still move 10,000 people around on a Saturday night,' says Tappenden. 'And get a fairground attraction in place without me knowing. And start the music up before I got to them. And run it for the next 20 hours. I had to admire that. We were used to planning big operations, but I don't think a top police or military team could have done what those lads did Saturday after Saturday. They were masters at it. They weren't real villains either, they'd simply seen an opening, a way to fill their pockets. Jeremy Taylor's dad was a judge. Jeremy used to tell me what his dad said I could and couldn't do.'
For some party promoters, the respect was mutual. One organisation, Raindance, even asked Tappenden to work for them when he retired from the police. But while Taylor, Sandy, Tony Colston-Hayter and the like weren't 'real villains', others behind the scenes were precisely that, attracted by the opportunity to run drugs and protection rackets. In Class Of 88: The True Acid House Experience, Wayne Anthony of the Genesis organisation writes about how he was kidnapped twice, once by a gang of former soldiers – Falklands War veterans – who demanded half of all his takings in return for 'security services'. Bound, gagged, and with a gun at his head, Anthony had little choice but to comply. Matthew Collin's Altered State: The Story Of Ecstasy Culture And Acid House meanwhile notes the involvement in the party scene of the ICF, the Inter City Firm, the notorious football hooligan crew attached to West Ham United.
A lot of information of this nature came through to the Pay Party Unit by their use of HOLMES (Home Office Large Major Enquiry System), a national computer database system first set up during the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper in the late 1970s. It was the first time HOLMES had been used to police drugs.
'The criminal element infiltrating the raves was more sinister than anyone at government level ever wanted to know and more sinister than the public ever perceived,' says Tappenden. 'Using HOLMES, lots of the names that kept coming up were people we knew as robbery merchants and gangsters, people on the Criminal Intelligence list. They were thugs. They were heavy bastards. Across-the-pavement robberies were going down and drug related crime was going up. Yes, we had kidnappings. Yes, the ICF got involved. Record shops in the East End of London were getting smashed up three or four times a month as a warning not to run parties without them. Some people got seriously hurt, seriously maimed. The message was, "You don't want to look like him next month".
'We also saw it in the fields with the security companies. It's hard for a policeman to admit to being frightened, but I got frightened lots of times. I got frightened for my officers. I got frightened for the youngsters at the parties. We recovered four sawn-off shotguns in one night at a rave at Ockenden in Essex. We filmed security men making Rotweiller dogs attack people at Reigate in Surrey, putting 16 in hospital, and we saw them walking around with CS gas canisters. Oh, it was sinister. And it was never-ending. The moment we took one team of five villains off, another five would come in. I thought we would have mass slaughter with the gangs. I talked about the danger of a Hillsborough-type disaster if it suddenly went off at a crowded party. It didn't ever happen, but it's no exaggeration to say we were often on the brink of it.'
By the end of 1989, Tappenden was exhausted. 'The police weren't winning,' he says. And on a personal note, Tappenden hadn't had a Saturday night at home for 15 months or more. He remembers how much he was looking forward to that Christmas, how he believed the holiday period would give him and his team a much-needed break. The promoters had been running raves non-stop through the winter months so far and they needed a bit of a break too, didn't they?
As if. New Year's Eve fell on a Saturday. The number of illegal events logged by the Pay Party Unit in that one single night was 126.